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House panel passes bill to clarify law to outlaw gambling machines

The bill passed with only one vote, Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, who said the state should be regulating, not outlawing the games. He said the issue was being rushed by House leaders as a "knee-jerk reaction" to the state and federal investigation into Allied Veterans and its affiliates that landed 57 arrests and prompted the state Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to resign. 

The fall of the fast-climbing industry is happening with mercurial speed in Florida. Some operators of the estimated $1 billion enterprise are already shut down. Now, the legal  clarification comes five years after Rep. Bill Galvano, now a state senator from Bradenton, first suggested making the change as he negotiated the compact. Resistance, he said, began with former Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and wove its way through the legislature.

Police estimate that Allied Veterans and its operators steered $2 million in campaign contributions to politicians throughout the state. Division of Elections records show that as much as $1 million more was spent by operators of other Internet cafe franchises and chains not affiliated with Allied Veterans. 

Trujillo had filed his bill to outlaw the games before the state and federal "Reveal the Deal" investigation was announced this week. A similar bill was passed by the Florida House last year but it failed in the Senate, where the prevailing support was for measures to regulate, not ban the machines.

In the wake of the arrests, however, the Senate has announced this week that it will take up a bill on Monday to also ban the machines.

Waldman complained that the House bill went beyond banning the Internet cafes and instead attempted to crack down on the adult arcades and maquintas -- major policy shifts he said that deserved a more delibertive hearing than the rush to judgment they were being asked to make, he said. 

"This is nothing more than what we do in the Florida House -- a knee jerk reaction to what took place,'' he said. "The fact is, nothing that we do today will affect those prosecutoions from those arrests three days ago. If it was illegal before it’s still illegal."

But Trujillo said the legislation was needed because these cases are "extremely difficult to prosecute and extremely costly...The operators and promoters are very creative and they basically skirted around state law and it comes down to a battle of experts. And the experts have to decide are these games of skill or games of chance."

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